We have written about problems in search of solutions like the looming skilled craft worker shortage being made worse by the impending retirement of “the old guys” in the business, the exploding demand for new construction and the lack of new trade skilled workers entering the industry, especially in the US.
We have written about solutions like the driverless ready mix trucks, the remotely driven Australian 25 ton dump trucks, the brick laying robot, the 3d printers being used by the Chinese to build housing for their rapidly expanding demand for urban housing all as possible solutions that might be able to address the issues.
One of the toughest issues ahead of us will likely be how to get a “slow adapting” construction industry to adapt new technologies before there is a real crisis. The major infrastructure and healthcare projects being discussed across the US will likely create a crisis faster than projected by the pundits and experts.
Looking around the globe for emerging solutions to the workforce shortage, the Japanese construction industry might show us a way to address the skilled worker shortages in the US. A recent article in Global Construction Review entitled “Japan turns to construction robots as workforce dwindles” points to a country whose shrinking population and manufacturing capabilities are coming together to help address the worker shortages and improve the industry itself. They are utilizing manufacturing robots and automation. According to the article, “The move to automation comes as trade body the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors estimates that there will be 1.28 million fewer construction workers by 2025 compared with 2014.”
The integration of automation into construction comes as the result of a program introduced by the Japanese government in 2015 called “iConstruct” and to improve productivity on major infrastructure projects.
According to the article, “…Shojigumi Inc. in Shizuoka Prefecture, uses robots and other automated machines, and launched a nation-wide network of companies in 2015 that lets them try new technologies and share information," Kyodo reports.
Yohei Oya, a 38-year-old construction supervisor at Shojigumi told Kyodo that productivity at the company had been boosted by up to 10 times through automation. “We’re not at the site all night like we used to be,” he said. “You don’t even have to be highly skilled anymore to get the work done.” He added: “The burden has been reduced on our workers and on management. Work is completed in half the time it used to take.”
That is quite a statement. When US construction companies are forced to address the productivity and labor issues in the industry, perhaps some of those techniques being utilized today in Japan will make their way into the US industry.